On Saturday, Texas Tech football competed in its first football game of the COVID-19 era. Although everything looked the same on the turf, the thousands of spectators and reporters faced a much different setting than usual.
The first difference in the game day routine, from a media perspective, started before I even entered Jones AT&T Stadium.
About four hours prior to arrival, Tech Athletics sent me a health screening that was required prior to entry. The screening asked basic questions along the lines of COVID-19 exposure, such as if I was running a fever or if I had any symptoms of late.
Upon arrival at the stadium, I noticed masks and gloves on every parking attendant, staff member and worker. When entering, they did a mask check and also took my temperature to see if I passed standard protocol to go into the stadium.
As I walked through the hallways of the stadium, there were numerous stickers, posters and stands promoting social distancing and reiterating COVID-19 protocol. At the elevator specifically, it read that no more than five people were to be inside of it at once. On the floor, there were stickers to keep us socially distanced.
Once I reached the press box, I immediately noticed a difference in atmosphere from previous years.
The most outstanding difference was the sheer number of press box reporters. The amount had dropped significantly. Not only had the numbers dropped, but the space in between each reporter was significantly larger than past years.
Everybody in the press box had masks on, and as a whole, the press box seemed a lot less lively with reduced chatter.
Another big difference I noticed came from the dining portion of the press box. Last season, there was a buffet-style meal layout where media could just grab their food as they pleased and go back to their seat.
Now, the portion of the press box that was home to several tables and dining options was limited to one line of tables along the back wall with event staff preparing meal plates for each respective media member. Upon waiting for food, there was signage on the floor, six feet apart, marking where each person in line should stand to promote social distancing.
The area between media who wanted food and the staff was separated by a thin slab of glass that stretched along the length of the table. Each meal was prepared by a masked, gloved, staff member who proceeded to take your order, make your plate and then slide it under the glass.
The only time, from what I saw, that people had their masks off was to eat food. Other than that, most everybody followed mask-wearing protocol.
All protocols given in regard to mask wearing, elevator limit and social distancing were followed. There were staff members in different areas throughout the stadium to ensure a safe environment, including both on the elevator and by the dining portion of the press box.
Looking out to the field from the press box, the stadium looked eerily empty for an athletic event, but it was fuller than I expected for a game in the COVID-19 era. Tech announced a 25 percent attendance cap at the game several weeks ago. Per report from Tech Athletics, there were over 11,000 fans in attendance.
While walking into the stadium, pre-game festivities like tailgating and other events were abundant in the parking lots. It looked like normal game day routine, just with less numbers.
As for the field, it looked a bit more barren due to the regulations of who could be on the field. Tech Athletics sliced the number of media who could be on the field and it showed, as the sidelines were relatively empty.
In the stands, only a small portion of the seats were filled, but enough to still make a difference. In the press box, where I was several stories above general fan seating and across the stadium from the brunt of the fans, I heard “Raider Power” chants ringing throughout.
To the side of the fans stood the Goin’ Band from Raiderland, who also had limited numbers in the game. The band appeared socially distanced and smaller in size but still loud enough to make a difference.
Half time served to be the same as any other year, just smaller in size and quieter in volume.
In sum, from a reporters’ aspect, the press box and total atmosphere of the event was at a much lower, watered-down and controlled level.